When do the Rich Win?

Abstract

There is growing interest in the influence of economic “haves” and “have-nots” on public policy. In a widely referenced article, Gilens and Page (2014) compare the influence of upper and middle income citizens and find that the preferences of the former are all that matter for policy. Here, we reconsider this possibility, examining how often the rich win and the kinds of policies they get. We find that the rich and middle almost always agree and, when they disagree, the rich win only slightly more often. Even when the rich do win, resulting policies do not lean systematically in a conservative direction. Incorporating the preferences of the poor produces similar results; though the poor do not fare as well, their preferences are not completely dominated by those of the rich or middle. Based on our results, it appears that inequalities in policy representation across income groups are limited . The rich still do matter, seemingly more than they should, and this may have substantial consequences for policy, particularly as effects cumulate over time. It also may be that income does not matter very much, and that other divisions in the electorate or other actors are more relevant for policy.

Publication
Political Science Quarterly
Date

Covered by La Presse (French), Vox, and Washington Monthly